06 February 2014

RootsTech 2014: My Thursday thoughts

This article includes the following topics:
  • My experience in the expo hall with my wife 
  • Are some worn out and bitter?
  • Moving toward preserving the world's records
  • FamilySearch is aware of features we need, be patient
  • Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, together forever
  • RootsTech's major theme: We can't do it alone
Creating and preserving our memories as a couple at RootsTech

Today my wife attended RootsTech for the first time, with a free expo hall pass. I highly recommend that for anyone who can afford to come to Salt Lake City, Utah. It was a special experience for me to share some of this time with my wife, at my favorite annual genealogy event.

There were classes in every time-slot that interested me, but I took some time away during one of the class sessions to enjoy the hall with my wife. She had been walking around the hall for awhile already, doing random activities, and she even won a free membership to MyHeritage.

When I was there, I took her to the FamilySearch family story recording booth where we took a ten minute video of ourselves talking for ten minutes about our time so far as a couple. I've already watched it and I can say we look great together. Creating and recording memories for posterity is an interesting new dynamic of our family history journey.

We also used the phone call interview computers provided in the FamilySearch Discovery Center section. My wife was able to call some of her relatives in Mexico, and I spoke to some of mine in the United States. They instantly e-mailed those conversations to us upon the end of each call. I've listened to part of one I had with my mom's mother, and am glad I was brave enough to try it.

Are some of us becoming worn down and resentful?

I'm not as excited to share news as I was in previous years. There are a few reasons I think. Perhaps it feels less new and exciting, now that I have been for a couple of previous years. Perhaps I am too accustomed to ground-breaking advances in the field. Perhaps I am mentally preoccupied with my own responsibilities, and how much work I will have to catch up on when these blissful days end.

Many of the things that are coming to the genealogy space in the future are really not that new of an idea for me, or I have already been hearing about the developments for so long that further news is not exciting. I feel myself moving toward a more practical viewpoint. I am interested more in news that will help me in my volunteer or work roles immediately, instead of 1-2 years from now--when promised features may come. Don't get me wrong. I recognize that meaningful features have recently been released and more are coming all the time. I'm simply less excited to talk and hypothesize about the future. Sometimes things in development never make it past beta, or are totally different by then.

That being said, there was a lot of exciting news so far at RootsTech. Ryan Heaton and Ron Tanner gave talks about GEDCOMX and Family Tree respectively. I mention these two together, because they both had an unfortunate resentful tone. GEDCOMX and FHISO were questioned a lot last year about their value or true openness. Much of Ryan's entire presentation seemed to be anticipating similar lines of questioning, and it felt defensive. Ron presented in a similar style, especially at certain points. Even his body language and expression was less moving than in previous years. It felt like they had been worn down by having so much critical feedback in the past and were trying to defend their products. Don't get me wrong, these were the only 2 presentations where I noticed this kind of resentful tone, out of all the presentations so far. It is just unfortunate.

Good news

Note: Various speakers or employees mentioned the news items below, but some may be incomplete. These items are not meant as official announcements and deals may not be final.

Several things were said that show FamilySearch is moving forward in preserving the world's records.
  • They have an agreement with the Shanghai Library to share all of their Chinese records collections both ways. Each one will give access to the other, to their collections. 
  • Through the partnership of Ancestry.com and FamilySearch, Ancestry.com will be able to put more of the Mexico census records online (the 1930 Mexico census is the only one currently online). FamilySearch will grant Ancestry.com access to the Mexico collections currently on their site. [I specifically asked an employee about this because it would help us a lot in researching my wife's family.]
  • Vital/church records are currently in process of acquisition for Venezuela and Guatemala. Guatemala is providing many of their own camera teams, while FamilySearch is offering their volunteers to index, and website to host the records. 
  • FamilySearch has multiple partnerships that will allow them to publish many more obituaries online in the future.
  • FamilySearch recently met with five of the largest Native American tribes in the United States to discuss ways to help them set up family history programs or centers. The response was positive. No timeframe has been announced. 
  • FamilySearch has made major progress with agreements in India to preserve records just recently
  • FamilySearch gets more offers to allow them to digitize records than they could possibly meet right now. The planned increase from 267 to 500 camera crews will help, but collections will still be prioritized. FS can't do it all. They have limited resources. UK and Germany are in high demand right now, and places like South America, Africa, and Italy are also high on the list.
Several things show that FamilySearch is aware of the features that users want and need.
  • Some of the conflicts with dealing with living people on FamilySearch Family Tree or Memories may start to be resolved around May.
  • In over a year and a half, we should begin to see ways to share groups of living people through granting permission with Family Tree.
  • Index corrections may become possible some time in 2015.
  • Due to tighter partnerships with genealogy companies, syncing Ancestry.com trees, Findmypast trees, and MyHeritage trees to FamilySearch Family Tree may become available later this year (or partially).
  • FamilySearch is accepting sign-ups for beta testers on the new indexing system, and the new Family Tree/Memories mobile apps
  • In Q2 2014 we should see the ability to merge new persons from a source, into our FamilySearch Family Tree
  • The FamilySearch Memories app will allow users to record audio and upload it to their FamilySearch accounts. This will be in beta along with the Family Tree viewer app, anticipated in March.
  • Video support is on the roadmap, but far to little has been done to suggest a timeline. 
More details about the Ancestry.com and FamilySearch agreement

Members of FamilySearch's sponsor donate funds to the work of FamilySearch. Part of the deal with Ancestry.com requires that these LDS members have free access to at least portions of Ancestry.com. We should see the initial integration along these lines in or after second quarter 2014. I'm being intentionally vague, as this is the kind of thing that is easy to spread rumors about. It is best to wait and see how it plays out.

Ancestry.com and FamilySearch no longer will compete in trying to get contracts to digitize collections. This was the case before, and this new policy will save resources and effort, so that more can be accomplished.


GEDCOMX is currently in use among any/all of FamilySearch partners who are exchanging data with their services, whether they know it or not. They welcome developers to create conversion tools, make recommendations, and partner with them.

FamilySearch CEO, Dennis Brimhall said that sometimes he promises too much. He paraphrased what his staff would probably tell him: "How did you dare say that? We're not going to do that." Perhaps one of those things was when he mentioned a text-to-tree feature that would be developed. Brimhall mentioned this in a small unconferencing session at RootsTech 2013, and this year he mentioned it more prominently. Developers clarified that they are only in the research phase of this product. The intent is to open up the family tree to use from those without a regular Internet connection. Many in less developed countries have text-ready cell phones, but no computer or Internet.

One of the major themes this year is that we cannot do it on our own. There is too much work to do in the field of genealogy, and we need all the biggest players as well as all the individuals to have a synergistic result (example: 2+2=5). We need more business partners, we need more developers, we need more indexers, we need more new people to become interested in Genealogy etc. Each of these points was covered well in the conference so far.